Power Plant Reductions- EPA Gets it Wrong....Again

On August 21st, the D.C. Circuit Court vacated U.S. EPA's Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) also known at the "Transport Rule."  This is not the first time EPA has had its power plant pollution reduction rule vacated.  The Transport Rule was the replacement to the Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) which was also struck down by the Court in December 2008.

Here was a paragraph from a blog post I wrote when EPA released the Transport Rule

After two years of development, EPA has released its proposed Transport Rule and is very confident it can withstand legal challenge. They stated in the presentation that their lawyers are confident the structure of the Transport Rule will meet the Courts mandate by ensuring elimination of "significant contribution."

I remember attending this presentation which was made by senior officials with EPA.  EPA said their lawyers had combed through the CAIR decision to make sure the had a lock solid replacement rule.  After the D.C. Circuit Court ruling, the EPA lawyers better go back to the drawing board. 

 Why the Court Struck Down the Transport Rule

The Court found two fundamental flaws with EPA's Transport Rule:

  1. Greater Reductions Required than a State's Contribution to Downwind Non-Attainment-  Under the Clean Air Act, State's are required to eliminate their contribution to non-attainment of federal air quality standards in downwind States.  Under the Transport Rule, EPA quantified State's downwind contribution, but then imposed controls on power plants that were based on cost.  In some cases EPA admitted the reductions were more than the State's contribution to downwind non-attainment.  The Court said EPA had no right to force reductions beyond a State's downwind contribution even if EPA found the reductions to be cost effective.
  2. EPA Ignored the Federalist Structure of the Clean Air Act-  Under the Transport Rule, EPA determined the contribution to downwind non-attainment and then immediately imposed specific reductions on sources in those states.  The Court said that EPA should have stopped after it quantified each State's contribution to downwind non-attainment and allowed each State to determine on its own how to eliminate that contribution. Each State should have been given an opportunity to chose its own mix of new air pollution reductions through the State Implementation Plan (SIP) process.

The Court decided to keep CAIR in place while EPA tries to figure out a legally defensible rule requiring reductions from power plants.  CAIR now remains in place after it was supposedly vacated by the Courts four years ago.

Implications from EPA's Ruling

It will be very difficult to craft a legally defensible rule that reduces power plant emissions on a regional basis in order to address the "significant contribution" provisions of the Clean Air Act.  To be fair to EPA, the Agency appears to get conflicting guidance from the Courts.

The Court in the CAIR ruling was sharply critical of EPA because it allowed power plants to avoid necessary reductions through its emission trading provisions.  The provisions of the Transport Rule were designed to specifically address the flaws identified by the Court.  EPA felt the Transport Rule addressed the fundamental flaw of CAIR by ensuring each State eliminated its contribution to downwind non-attainment.  But after two years of evaluation, EPA still issued an invalid rule.

In reaction to the ruling, EPA may give up on designing a regional reduction program for power plants.  It may simply define each State's significant contribution and leave it up to the State to find the necessary reductions.  If it goes this route it will shift the burden onto the State's in having to make the really hard choices in terms of emission reductions.  It is much easier for the State's to simply implement rules mandated by the federal EPA.  Otherwise, the States are left to pick the winners and losers in terms of costly new controls on companies within its borders.   

It also looks like it will be very difficult to develop any sort of power plant rule that has emission trading. EPA would likely have to go back to Congress to obtain clear authority under the Clean Air Act.  Any change to the Clean Air Act seems highly unlikely in today's political environment.  This is a shame because emission trading has been consistently found to be far more cost effective than traditional command and control regulation.

Cheap Gas Fosters EPA Carbon Cap on Future Coal Plants

On March 28th, U.S. EPA released its highly controversial rulemaking which establishes a carbon dioxide (CO2) emission limit on new coal-fired power plants.  All future coal-fired power plants will have to utilize an unproven technology, carbon capture and sequestration (CCS), to meet the emission limits.  CCS involves capturing CO2 and injecting it deep beneath the earth's surface for permanent storage.

EPA's proposed rule would exempt from the CO2 emission limit new coal plants that begin construction in the next twelve (12) months.  Some analysts have commented that the fifteen coal-fired power plants currently slated for construction may be the last coal plants constructed in the United States.  This from Businessweek:

“This is the tail end of coal generation build-out,” said Teri Viswanath, the director of commodity markets strategy at BNP Paribas SA (BNP) in New York. “The ones we are getting today -- that is going to be the last hurrah for coal-fired generation.”

Certainly that statement would appear to be true unless some of the current plants slated to utilize CCS can demonstrate its a workable technology.  However, with the risk associated with CCS and the costs of new coal power plants, cheap natural gas does seem to be the fuel of choice for new electricity generation in the United States.

Basics of the EPA Rule

EPA's proposed Carbon Pollution Standard for New Power Plants would apply to all fossil-fuel-fired electric utility generating units (EGUs) that are larger than 25 megawatts.  These new EGUs would have to meet an output-based standard of 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour (lb CO2/MWh gross). 

Studies show that 95% of all newly constructed natural gas combined cycle power plant units meet the proposed standard without any add-on controls.  New coal plants without CCS currently generate around 1,800 lbs CO2/MWh gross.  Based on existing technology, the only way new coal plants could meet the 1,000 lbs standard would be through CCS.

Other key points:

  • Existing plants that begin construction in the next 12 months would be grandfathered (won't have to meet the standard);
  • Coal plants could be built without CCS if they add it later and the average CO2 emissions over a 30 year period equal the standard.; and
  • The rule does not cover existing coal-fired power plants

Cheap Natural Gas Behind EPA's Proposed Rule

In releasing the proposed rule, EPA provided a Regulatory Impact Analysis which projected that the rule would be very little negative effect on the cost of electricity or jobs due to low natural gas prices. The chart below shows EPA's analysis of future natural as prices even accounting for the increased use for electric generation.

 

EPA states in its analysis that market forces have already shifted toward construction of natural gas electricity generating units, in part, due to recent technology used to access deposits of natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations. 

Under current and foreseeable future market conditions affecting new capacity
additions, gas-fired generating technologies can produce electricity at a lower levelized cost than coal-fired generating technologies, and therefore utilities are expected to rely heavily on combustion turbines and combined cycle plants using natural gas when they do need to expand capacity during the time horizon considered for this analysis. Current and projected natural gas prices are considerably lower than the prices observed over the past decade, largely due to advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling techniques that have opened up new shale gas resources and substantially increased the supply of economically recoverable natural gas.

Because the large shale deposits have kept natural gas prices low, EPA finds no real impact from its proposed rule mandating CCS on new coal plants.

One has to ask the question of what happens if the dynamics on natural gas turn out differently.  What if demand increases dramatically or anticipated capacity is much lower?  Will EPA reconsider its carbon standard on new coal plants? 

The rule presents somewhat of a risky proposition by relying on an unproven technology- CCS.  So long as cheap natural gas remains, utilities will have very little incentive to really invest in CCS.

Ohio Could be at the Center of a Major Energy Transformation from Coal to Natural Gas

U.S. EPA finally issued its long awaited air pollution regulation aimed at reducing mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants- Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS).  MATS sets specific numeric emission standards for mercury and other air toxics from coal-fire power plants  25 megawatts in size or larger.

MATS will apply to some 1,400 generating units across the country.  The rules carry with them a $9.6 billion dollar price tag.  Power produces have until 2015 to 2016 to comply with the new regulations.

The new regulation, along with a series of earlier federal regulations, have made coal power generation more expensive. Meanwhile, the rich deposits of natural gas in the Marcellus and Utica Shale have kept natural gas prices down. 

Ohio could be at the center of a major shift in power generation.   Right now Ohio's baseload power generation tilts heavily in favor of coal with 86% of its generation from coal and only 2% from natural gas.  However, the scales may be starting to go  in favor of natural gas.  MIT's recent study on natural gas showed its role will increase significantly the coming years in the energy sector. 

On June 8, 2011, AEP released its compliance plan which calls for retirement of coal plants and new natural gas capacity.  According to SourceWatch:

 AEP’s compliance plan would retire nearly 6,000 megawatts (MW) of coal-fueled power generation; upgrade or install new advanced emissions reduction equipment on another 10,100 MW; refuel 1,070 MW of coal generation as 932 MW of natural gas capacity; and build 1,220 MW of natural gas-fueled generation. The cost of AEP’s compliance plan could range from $6 billion to $8 billion in capital investment through the end of the decade

In 2011, many power producers announced they were closing Ohio coal-fire generating facilities.  These include:

  • AEP's Picway
  • AEP's Conesville
  • AEP's Muskingham River
  • Duke Beckjord
  • DP&L Hutchings

According to an Associated Press survey of 55 power producers, more than 32 mostly coal-fired power plants in a dozen states would close. The survey indicated no threat to the reliability of the nation’s power system.

Pennsylvania is about decade ahead of Ohio in its shift toward natural gas due to the fact the Marcellus shale formation is proven and the Utica shale is not.  Pennsylvania offers a glimpse into Ohio's future.

Chart shows Pennsylvania's ten fold increase in natural gas power generation.  In a decade, natural gas has gone from 2% of Pennsylvania's power generation to 17%. 

Meanwhile, coal power generation in Pennsylvania has seen a corresponding drop from 56% to 47% of overall generation in the State.   (Chart- Investment U "Pennsylvania leading the shift to natural gas)

 

Repeal of Ohio RPS is Bad for the State in the Short and Long Run

Ohio State Senator Kris Jordan (R-Powell)  introduced Senate Bill 216 which would repeal Ohio's renewable portfolio standard ("RPS").  The RPS requires  that the state's electric utilities provide 25% of their retail energy supply from advanced and renewable energy sources such as clean coal, wind, and solar energy by 2025.  

Ohio enacted the RPS in 2009.  Each year the percentage of electricity to come from renewable or advanced energy sources gradually  increases until you reach the maximum of 25%. 

The bill is co-sponsored by Senators Tom Patton (R-Strongsville) and Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati). The Senators argue that the RPS requirement is driving up electricity prices during a tough economy which is bad for economic development. 

The proposal comes as Governor Kasich is hosting a two-day energy summit to discuss Ohio's energy policy.

Short Term Job Gains

When Ohio enacted the RPS, the proponents argued that it would lead to job growth.  First, jobs would be added as projects were developed to meet the RPS requirements.  Second, manufacturers of renewable energy parts and equipment are more likely to locate in a state that shows support for its industry through passage of an RPS.

A recent study discussed in a prior post suggests those arguments have validity. 

  • Ohio ranks 6th in the country in total clean energy related jobs with a total of 105,306.
  • Ohio also ranked 12th in total clean energy jobs added between 2003-2010.

Long Term an Over-Reliance on Coal Hurts Ohio

Ohio still gets approximately 90% of its power generation from coal-fired power plants.  There is no argument that coal power has been subject to a flood of new and proposed regulations.  Those regulations include the following:

  • Mercury limits
  • Greenhouse gas regulations
  • NOx SIP Call- cap and trade for power plants
  • Cross-State Air Pollution Rule- greater reductions from power plant emissions enacted this year

This is just a partial list of the regulations facing coal power.  With all these regulations forcing more controls the cost of coal power is going to continue to rise.  It is not too difficult to see Ohio would be very wise to diversify its power portfolio or face future price shocks from these new regulations.

Not to overly simplify, but any good stock broker tells its customers to diversify their portfolio to reduce risk.  In particular, a broker will advise their client to reduce their investment in companies/stocks that are facing "head winds" or challenges in the future.

This is exactly the position the state is in when it relies almost exclusively on coal power.  The RPS serves as a tool to diversify its energy portfolio prior to experiencing these future price shocks.

 

Supreme Court Bars Federal Nuisance Climate Change Suit

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court released their opinion in AEP v. Connecticut  in which the Court held that the Clean Air Act ("CAA") and the EPA actions on regulating greenhouse gas emissions displaced any federal common-law right to seek greenhouse gas emission reductions.  The suit was filed by Eastern States and non-profit land groups against coal-fired power plants in an attempt to have court order emission reductions. Businesses were deeply concerned that if the Court allowed the nuisance case to proceed, the courts would be flooded with climate change litigation.

Legal Ruling

The States had argued their nuisance claims were not displaced because EPA had not yet established final emission standards.  The Court stated the displacement test is simply "whether the statute speaks directly to the question at issue." In other words, if the statute give authority to act that is enough to displace federal common law.

The Court noted that in  Massachusetts v. EPA it had previously held:

  • Emissions of carbon dioxide qualify as air pollution subject to the CAA. 
  • CAA Section 111 gives authority to EPA to list categories of stationary sources that cause or contribute significantly to air pollution that "endangers public health and welfare"  (categories would include coal-fired power plants)
  • Once a category is listed under Section 111, EPA must establish performance standards for new or modified sources within that category
  • CAA also will require regulation of existing sources in the category
  • If EPA fails to act in setting standards, States and private parties may petition for a rulemaking on the matter, and EPA’s response will be reviewable in federal court.

For these reasons, the Court held it was clear the CAA "speaks directly" to the emission of carbon dioxide from the defendant's coal-fired power plants.

Implications of Today's Ruling

  1. Prevents "Flood" of Federal Nuisance Claims- Obviously today's ruling is very good news for those who feared the courts could be flooded with climate change litigation under federal common law. 
  2. Possible State Nuisance Claims-  The Court notes that the issue before them was limited to actions under federal nuisance, it does not address nuisance claims based upon state law.  The Supreme Court sent the case back to the Second Circuit to determine if state nuisance claims are pre-empted by the CAA.  This leaves open a huge issue that could likely result in yet another Supreme Court ruling.
  3. EPA v. Courts-  In its opinion the Supreme Court stated its preference for EPA to decide appropriate emission reductions, not the courts.   The Court said EPA, with all its expertise, is in a better position to balance competing interests and establish standards. 
  4. Tacit Endorsement of EPA Regulatory Authority- The key battle right now are EPA's regulatory actions to move forward with emission standards for greenhouse gases.  Some have asserted EPA's actions demonstrate the Agency is "out of control."  The Supreme Court's decision makes clear, once again, EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases.  Also, the Court notes repeatedly, if EPA fails to act in establishing those standards it can be compelled to act by private parties. 

 

Grim News Follows Good News For Northeast Ohio on Ozone

The Obama Administration announced it would review the revised ozone standard of .75 ppb that was previously established by the Bush Administration.   The Obama Administration has said if they decide to revise the ozone standard below .75 ppb they will announce it by December of 2009 and finalize the standard by August 2010. 

As reported in the article, other actions make it appear almost certain that U.S. EPA will revise the standard lower. 

The Justice Department, in a brief filed Wednesday in a federal appeals court, went further, saying that the EPA believes the revision made by the Bush administration does not adhere to federal air pollution law. The brief is part of a lawsuit by environmental groups against the Bush-era rule.

The news of a much tighter ozone standard follows great news for Northeast Ohio that it had achieved the original 8-hour standard of .85 ppb (see, Improving Air Quality Great News for Cleveland Business)  This past week U.S. EPA announced it was granting Ohio's request to redesignate Northeast Ohio Counties (Ashtabula, Cuyahoga, Geauga, Lake, Lorain, Medina, Portage and Summit) attainment . 

An "attainment" status has significant benefits to a community trying to re-build its economy.   It is much easier for businesses looking to relocate or expand to obtain the air permits they will need. Unfortunately, if the standard is reset to something like .70 ppb, Northeast Ohio brief attainment window will close and it will be facing a tremendous obstacle to see an "attainment" status anytime in the near future. 

The above chart is the monitoring data from Ohio EPA's air pollution control plan submitted to U.S. EPA.  It shows the Ashtabula monitor is averaging 84.3 ppb, just slightly below the .85 ppb current standard.  But very, very far away from a possible .70 ppb.  As the Ashtabula monitor goes, so does all the counties in Northeast Ohio.  All eight counties will be in non-attainment if the Ashtabula monitor is not below .70 ppb.

Rather than focus on the economic costs of a revised standard or the difficulty of obtaining that standard, the Cleveland Plain Dealer focused on the future of E-check:

But it doesn't mean that you won't have to E-check your car anymore. Ohio has renewed its contract with Envirotest Systems to conduct the unpopular - though free to drivers - emission tests through June 2011.
 

Such a limited focus fails to recognize the wider implications of the tighter ozone standard.  Businesses that are located outside "non-attainment counties" should pay attention as well. In what has become a re-occurring theme on this blog, tighter ozone standards will have a dramatic impact on the cost of electricity for coal dependent states. 

Roughly 1/3 of all ozone causing pollutants are attributable to coal-fired power plants.  In fact, the progress in achieving the old standard was in large part attributable to federal control programs requiring reductions of these pollutants (NOx SIP Call and CAIR).  To achieve much tighter ozone standards, U.S. EPA will be forced once again to look to tightening emission requirements for coal plants.  Tighter emission requirements translates to higher compliance costs passed on to utility customers.

Ohio really needs to focusing intently on diversifying its energy portfolio to mitigate these increases.  Otherwise, businesses will be looking toward escalating operating costs making Ohio businesses non-competitive.  If you are a business who has opportunities to generate your own power, it would be a strategic advantage to give serious consideration to those plans.

 

Small Business See Benefits of Energy Efficiency Projects

Small businesses are deeply concerned with the economic impacts of the proposed cap-and-trade legislation currently pending in Congress.  Although small businesses will not be covered by the cap, if a price is placed on carbon, small businesses will feel the economic impact through energy price increases.  This is particularly true in the Midwest which is heavily reliant on carbon intensive coal power for its electricity generation.

With the hot national debate over cap-and-trade,  it is understandable that everyone is focused on the potential impacts of climate legislation on the economy.  However, I think this ignores the broader reality.  As discussed on this blog before there are other factors at work driving energy prices higher. (See, Cap and Trade: Job Killer or Call to Action for Coal States)  These include:

  • A new program requiring control of mercury emissions from coal fired power plants
  • Ever tightening federal ozone and fine particle pollution standards that will result in additional compliance costs for utilities
  • A revamped cap-and-trade program for utilities in light of the Court decisions regarding the Clean Air Interstate Rule
  • Potential tighter regulations on ash ponds and other utility wastes

If commodity prices rebound as a result of the economic recovery, price increases will be compounded.

For small businesses who are not prepared, high energy prices could force them out of business.

So, how can small businesses meet this threat through strategic action?  I would submit that any small business that is even moderately energy intensive should aggressively consider adopting energy efficient practices.

Today, the National Small Business Association released a report assessing the value of one practice, called "on-bill financing", that shows tremendous promise in reducing energy usage by small businesses.  According to the report, energy-efficiency programs such as on-bill financing can help the average small business save $4,932—and oftentimes more—every year on its energy bills.

On- Bill Financing- How it Works

Despite the benefits of energy efficiency projects, common barriers exist that prevent many businesses from implementing cost saving measures.  As detailed in the report, these include:

Cash flow: With tight margins and relatively small revenues, many small businesses find it challenging to undertake new capital investments, even if they will save money over time.  Fifty-two percent of small-business owners see cash flow as the primary barrier to investing in energy efficiency.

Up-front capital required: A typical energy-efficiency project might cost from $7,500 up to more than $20,000, with some projects costing a bit less and a few costing far more. 

Energy efficiency is only one priority among many: Small-business owners are heavily focused on the business at hand: managing inventory, maintaining payroll, providing health insurance, etc. They rarely have the time to focus on their energy bills, on energy-efficiency measures, or on their greenhouse gas emissions profile.

On-bill financing overcomes these barriers by: 1) identifying projects for the customer; and 2) providing up-front payment for the cost of the project and favorable repayment terms.

How are projects identified? Utilities identify businesses that may benefit from energy efficient project.  The utilities will use specialty trained contractors to perform an energy audit of the business to identify opportunities to reduce usage and save money.  The customers than elects whether to implement the project.  If the business implements the project it gets financed by the utility and repaid over time on the customers bill. 

The cost savings and the ability to reduce the impact of increasing energy prices are tremendously important to the vitality of small businesses.  There are also major environmental benefits as well. The report concludes that small business could collectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 259 million tons each year if they improved their energy efficiency by just 25 percent. 

A strong push for robust on-bill financing programs seems warranted. 

Cap and Trade: Job Killer or Call to Action for Coal Dependent States

Ohio faces a two headed hydra when it comes to the impact of the proposed cap-and-trade bill in Congress- the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (ACES):

  1. Ohio generates almost 90% of its energy from coal;
  2. Manufacturing represents one the largest employment sectors in Ohio (ranking 3rd nationally with 1.1 million workers as of 2006)

These two factors combine to raise the stakes significantly if a price is placed on carbon as a result of the cap-and-trade ACES proposal.  Coal-fired power plants are the largest source of greenhouse gases (GHGs).  Any regulatory approach that puts a price on GHGs will result in higher energy prices. 

Most manufacturers are not even covered under ACES because only the largest industrial sources are capped (25,000 metric tons or more).  However, the secondary effect of ACES- rising energy prices-could mean significant job losses in the manufacturing sector which is heavy user of power 

Potential Job Loses from Cap-and-Trade

A report released last week by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) projected that Ohio could lose from 80,000 to 108,000 jobs by 2030 if ACES passes. The job losses are directly attributable to rising energy prices. The NAM cap-and-trade report projects the following increases in commodities or electricity:

  • 26% increase in gasoline prices
  • 60% increase in electricity prices
  • 79% increase in natural gas prices

The 60% increase is actually conservative when compared to other studies.  Some have said total increases could be as high as 112% by 2030.  Such large price increases raise operating costs for many small and medium manufacturers.  Those cost increases will make many business unprofitable forcing them to close their doors, so the argument goes.

Is this really a complete analysis? Also, is opposition to ACES really the correct strategy?

A Call to Action- Diversity in Generation Key for Coal Dependent States

Based on my last two posts you may be expecting me argue that growth in green jobs attributable renewable energy development will significantly offset the manufacturing job loses.  For example, in 2008 there was a 70% increase in wind turbine related jobs nationally. 

While green jobs are important, a more fundamental issue presents itself- When it comes to preserving manufacturing jobs, reliance on coal power is unsustainable. 

The cost of energy produced from coal is going to dramatically increase regardless of whether climate change legislation passes.  A complex web of regulatory forces are at work driving coal energy prices higher over the next decade and into the future.  A honest assessment of these factors should serve as call to action- diversification.

An honest assessment of the forces at play demonstrates that coal reliant states are fighting a losing battle against energy price increases.  States must diversify their generation portfolios in order to become less sensitive to these forthcoming price shocks.  This means development of biomass, nuclear, wind, solar and other forms of electric generation.   

Analysis of Five Factors Driving Future Coal Power Energy Prices Higher

  1. New Source Review Enforcement Cases
  2. The fix for the Clean Air Interstate Rule or Multi-Pollutant Legislation 
  3. Mercury controls
  4. Ever tightening ozone and fine particle federal air standards (NAAQS)
  5. Massachusetts v. U.S. = regulation of greenhouse gases in some fashion

New Source Review (NSR) Enforcement Cases

Manufacturers and other businesses in the Ohio and throughout the Midwest have yet to see the full impact of the NSR enforcement cases on the price of energy.  The settlement with American Electric Power impacts sixteen (16) coal plants and is estimated to cost $4.6 billion.  Ohio Edison, subsidiary of FirstEnergy Corp., settled its NSR case in 2005.   The settlement is projected to cost $1.1 billion to retrofit the Sammis Station.  The litigation has yet to fully conclude in the Duke Energy case and while the verdict was mixed, the case will still result in significant compliance costs. 

Also, a New Source Review regulatory fix seems unrealistic in the near term.  Therefore, future projects that could improve plant efficiency may be avoided out of fear of triggering NSR.

Bottom line:  Billions in new compliance costs for coal fired power plants over the next several years and an uncertain regulatory structure.

CAIR or Multi-Pollutant Legislation

The Clean Air Interstate Rule (CAIR) was a cap-and-trade regulation directed at coal-fired power plant emission of SO2 and NOx.  On July 11, 2008, a federal court found CAIR to be inconsistent with the Clean Air Act.  While the rule remains in place while U.S. EPA develops a fix, U.S. EPA has put a CAIR-fix on the fast track.   It is uncertain what the "new-CAIR" program will look like, but there is little doubt it will result in a more expensive regulation. 

As an alternative to CAIR,  members of Congress have proposed multi-pollutant cap-and-trade legislation for coal fired power plants.  Regardless of whether CAIR remains as regulatory based or converts to legislation the consensus among Democrats was the Bush Administration rule did not require steep enough cuts from coal-fired power plants. 

Bottom line:  Either the CAIR fix or multi-pollutant legislation will raise compliance costs for coal-fired utilities

Mercury Controls

Based upon cost concerns, the Bush Administration rejected facility specific regulation of mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants.  Instead, the Administration proposed a new cap-and-trade program called the Clean Air Mercury Rule (CAMR).  A federal court ruled that mercury as a pollutant could not be regulated through a cap-and-trade mechanism.  On February 6, 2009, the Department of Justice (on behalf of the Obama Administration) dismissed its appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.  U.S. EPA is currently developing regulations under Section 112 of the Clean Air Act that will require every coal-fired power plant to control mercury emissions.  

Bottom line:  All facilities may be required to reduce mercury emissions through carbon absorption or implementation of other technologies.  Under CAMR, utilities were hoping to avoid controls on some of the older less efficient plants.  The rejection of CAMR will drive compliance costs higher.

Ozone and Fine Particle Air Quality Standards

Coal-fired power plant contribute roughly one-third (1/3) of ozone causing pollutants and particulate matter pollution.  As U.S. EPA tightens the ozone and fine particle National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), coal-fired power plants will remain a major target of tighter regulation. 

Bottom line:  States pass new regulations to meet tighter federal air quality standards.  There is lag time between development of new federal standards and implementation of these new state regulations.  States will be forced to contemplate even stricter regulation of coal-fired power plants as a result of tighter federal standards.

Massachusetts v. EPA-  Greenhouse Regulation is Inevitable

In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court declared CO2 and other greenhouse gases a "pollutant" under the Clean Air Act.  This landmark decision has set in motion a series of proposed actions by U.S. EPA to regulate greenhouse gases under the existing framework of the Clean Air Act. Regulation under the Act will be much more costly than the proposed cap-and-trade legislation. 

Bottom line:  The debate cannot be framed as pass cap-and-trade or have no climate change regulations.  Regulation is inevitable and most agree cap-and-trade is much more cost effective than regulation under the Clean Air Act.

Climate Change Legislation Moves Forward, But Major Issues Remain

The American Clean Energy and Security (ACES) Act of 2009 has cleared one hurdle through passage by the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  The bill now makes its way through at least two more House Committees before a floor vote will occur.  The House leadership has set an aggressive time frame for passage, Speaker Pelosi has said the remaining Committees must finish their work by June 19th.  This leads to the possibility of a  floor vote no later than the end of the month or early July. 

(World Resources Institute- Graph on anticipated reductions from ACES- click on chart to enlarge)

While the ACES legislation appears to be moving quickly, major issues remain with the structure of the legislation as well as its timing.  The Senate does not have a companion bill and many speculate the Senate will be unwilling to simply take of the Waxman-Markey Bill.  Therefore, a tremendous amount of uncertainty remains as to the approach the Senate will use to take up climate change legislation.

What are the possible issues that will be debated in House Committee hearings and in the Senate?  Some will include the following:

  1. 5 year Phase Out of Allocations-  The mark up version of the ACES legislation saw a significant compromise  on the auction v. allocation debate.  Whereas, the President had proposed a 100% auction, ACES only calls for a 35% auction in the early years.  However, the bill still proposes an aggressive phase out of allocations for the energy sector. (See Pew Chart to Left that show dramatic shift downward in allocations during 2025-2030 - click on chart to enlarge) While it may seem like a long way off, in a five year period stretching from 2025-2030 the legislation phases out allocations moving to 90% auction of allowances.  Industry is concerned that this aggressive phase out period will lead to price spikes in utility costs.
  2. 2020 Emission CAP- Emission reductions called for in the initial years was reduced.  The first major milestone of the cap is seen as 2020.  The original bill called for a 20% reduction below 2005 levels.  The mark up reduced that to a 17% reduction by 2020.  However, some forget that President Obama had called for a 14% reduction by 2020.  There are many industry representatives who believe the early reductions still need to be softened to make the bill workable.  There may be a renewed push to bring the 2020 cap down to the 14% reduction.
  3. 2012 Start Date-  The Legislation calls for a modest 3% reduction in 2012.  However, some in industry believe 2012 is too early and does not give adequate lead time to prepare for the cap.  During an EMA presentation, Bruce Braine, Vice President of AEP, commented that the 2012 time frame may force switching to natural gas that will result in price spikes in the first year the cap is effective.
  4. International Offsets-  In the face of widespread controversy regarding the European Trading Scheme (ETS) use of offsets, the bill includes many limitations on use of international offsets.  Beginning in 2018, there is an automatic 20% discount in the value of international offsets.  The bill limits use of international offsets to those categories of projects that have received approval by U.S. EPA.  In addition, there is a sector limitation on use.  Sectors in various countries will be identified where offsets are deemed appropriate (factors includes GDP and receiving equal treatment in project host country).  Finally, there must a an applicable bi-national or multi-national treaty in effect with the Country. Industry is concerned that these requirements will reduce the availability of international offsets thereby driving up the cost of compliance.
  5. Environmentalist Perspective-  The consensus among the environmental community appears to be that the "watering down" of the ACES legislation was necessary to secure passage.  Therefore, even with the dramatic shift away from auction of allowances, most groups still support the Legislation.  The key issue from an environmentalist perspective is the proverbial "line in the sand" to prevent additional changes, including concessions to industry on the issues mentioned above in the Senate.
  6. Ideology v. Realism-  Republicans who have uniformly opposed the carbon cap and trade legislation.  Even though industry support for the Legislation has grown, many Republicans have had success describing the Legislation as a large tax increase during a down economy.  This message plays well even with some Democrats from the Midwest and Southern States that face the greatest impacts from climate change legislation.  The "realism" aspect is that regulation of greenhouse gases appears inevitable.  A market based solution is clearly a better alternative to command and control regulation under the Clean Air Act.  However, are some members of Congress in denial that regulation is inevitable?

Obviously, ACES went through a dramatic transformation to gain passage from the House Energy and Commerce Committee.  The overwhelming majority of changes were to address industry concerns with the Legislation.  The most important changes were the shift away from auction of allowances and reduced reduction targets in the early years of the cap. 

Additional battles may be looming in the House over the issues identified above and others.  However, the most important battle ground remains the U.S. Senate where the future is less certain.

 

Remedy in Cinergy NSR Case Forces Shut Down of Units

As an indication the New Source Review (NSR) enforcement actions are alive and well, today an Indiana federal court has ordered the shut down of units that triggered NSR and failed to install controls.  In addition, the Court required Cinergy to surrender allowances to compensate for "irreparable harm" caused by the operation of the units in violation of the Clean Air Act

The Federal District Court in Indiana issued its decision in the remedy phase of the New Source Review (NSR) enforcement action against Cinergy Corporation's Beckjord, Ohio plant.  A jury trial was held in May of 2008 to determine whether certain projects triggered NSR.  The jury found that four projects performed at the facility "a reasonable power plant owner or operator would have expected a new increase of 40 tons of SO2 and/or NOx "(NSR major modification trigger levels).  Following the jury's verdict, the Court moved into the remedy stage to determine what relief to grant the plaintiffs for the violations.

The Courts decision is an interesting exercise of looking its crystal ball.  Based on calculations of emissions and modeling, the Court projected environmental harm caused by failure to comply with NSR. 

To determine harm, the Court first determined the type of pollution controls that would have been installed had Cinergy complied with NSR requirements (BACT/LAER).  Those controls established the baseline emissions that should have been emitted since the projects were completed.  All emissions above the baseline were considered  "excess emissions" that resulted in environmental harm and potential health impacts.

It was pretty evident which direction the Court was heading when it included the following statement in its order:

With respect to SO2 emissions, Dr. Fox testified that the annual excess emissions of SO2 is approximately 23,000 tons...Putting this into perspective, this rate is approximately equivalent to the amount of SO2 emitted by 324,000 heavy-duty diesel trucks, which is the total number of trucks registered in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky.

The analysis of environmental harm and potential health impacts was very similar to the exercise undertaken by the North Carolina Court in the nuisance claims against coal fired power plants (see post, "Nuisance Finding Gives Downwind States New Ammo in Long Cross-Border Pollution War").  Here is what the Court examined to gage harm caused by "excess emissions":

  • How did the SO2 and Nox emission impact pm 2.5 and ozone attainment
  • What were mercury emission impacts
  • Potential health impacts from fine particle pollution
  • Damage to the environment from acid rain

After finding irreparable harm from these impacts the Court ordered:

  1. Shut down of three units by Sept. 2009
  2. Until Sept. 2009, the three units must be run so as not to exceed baseline levels that are based BACT/LAER controls
  3. Permanently surrender SO2 allowances in an amount equal to total SO2 emissions from May 22, 2008 until September 30, 2009

For those who though the NSR consent decrees carried with them pretty dramatic remedies, this decision shows you take an equivalent risk by going to trial. 

 (Photo: DanieVDM/everystockphoto.com)

Climate Update: Latest Developments on the Politics of Climate Legislation

 

Here are some snapshots of some of the latest developments regarding the Congressional debate over cap and trade legislation.  For the first time serious consideration of legislation is underway.  As a result, groups are beginning to develop their public positions.  Meanwhile, businesses continue to feel increasing pressure to address the risks associated with climate change.

Congressional Battle Lines Are Forming-  In my last post I apparently underestimated the aggressiveness of the Conservative attack on the Cap and Trade Proposal.  The legislative battle is beginning to take shape. RNC Chairman Steele said the following on a call in talk show

We are cooling. We are not warming. The warming you see out there, the supposed warming, and I am using my finger quotation marks here, is part of the cooling process. Greenland, which is now covered in ice, it was once called Greenland for a reason, right? Iceland, which is now green.

Skepticism among "Blue Dog" Democrats:  As serious consideration of a cap and trade bill is now underway, conservative Democrats are questioning the timing and implementation of a cap and trade proposal.  In a Wall Street Journal interview with U.S. Climate Action Partnership member, Fred Krupp, he minimized the concern a divide is occurring within the Democratic Party:

Recently I met with 27 House Blue Dog Democrats, alongside other members of USCAP including [GE boss] Jeffrey Immelt, [Shell’s] Marvin Odum, and [Duke Energy’s] James Rogers. What I heard is that they want to be involved in getting a climate bill right, and making it fair for consumers; I didn’t see a lack of engagement. Until now, there’d been no prospect of legislation. Now, the sorts of concerns are raised that naturally get raised when things could actually happen. This is part of the legislative dance, and that just began in earnest when President Obama called on Congress to deliver a climate bill.

Size of the Climate Bill May 2 or 3 Times Projected in the President's Budget- Jason Furman, deputy director of the National Economic Council, told Senate staffers in late February that the plan could raise two to three times as much as the official budget figures, or between $1.3 trillion and $1.9 trillion, the WSJ reports.

[In order to get projections that high] That leaves carbon-emissions permits that are simply more expensive than the lowish prices that have been bandied about so far. To make the White House math work, the government would have to sell the same number of permits at prices ranging from $20 to more than $40 a ton [compared to $10 to $14 per ton originally projected.  For comparison the most recent RGGI auction, carbon was around $3 per ton]

Cap and Trade Means Jobs-  Understanding the link between a struggling economy and the viability of cap and trade legislation, the Environmental Defense Fund has launched a new web site showing regulating carbon can translate into green jobs.  The site contains maps of select states with push pins representing various companies that EDF argues would benefit from cap and trade legislation. It is no coincidence that EDF uses mainly coal states to highlight the potential for green job growth.  www. lesscarbonmorejobs.org

Insurers Must Disclose Climate Change Risks-  Another indication came last week that climate change is having real world impacts on the business community even before a vote occurs on cap and trade legislation.  The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) voted last week to require the annual filing of Insurer Climate Risk Disclosure Surveys for insurance companies with annual premiums topping $500 million. The new rule, set to begin May 1, 2010, is the world's first climate risk disclosure requirement,

Market Solutions Versus Top Down Regulation-  The freight train that is greenhouse gas (GHG) regulation is on track and moving full steam ahead.  I cannot repeat enough to those debating climate change legislation, if you are focusing only on whether to enact cap and trade legislation you are missing the 800 lbs gorilla in the room.  GHG regulation is coming.  The Supreme Court set the train in motion with Massachusetts v. EPA.  No real debate should occur without examining the alternative of allowing Clean Air Act regulation of GHGs instead of a market based solution like cap and trade.

 

In a Major Reversal, Obama Administration Restarts NSR Enforcement Initiative

In a dramatic reversal from the Bush Administration, the Department of Justice and U.S. EPA are renewing their New Source Review enforcement efforts against coal-fired power plants.  The NSR lawsuits originally commenced during the Clinton years have resulted in billions of dollars in new controls and hundreds of millions in civil penalties. 

The industry had breathed a sigh of relief when the Bush EPA announced they were not going to pursue additional cases.  Now the industry faces the prospect of a new round of very costly litigation, controls and penalties.

U.S. EPA issued a press release announcing the first new NSR complaint:

Coal-fired power plants collectively produce more pollution than any other industry in the United States. They account for nearly 70 percent of sulfur dioxide emissions each year and 20 percent of nitrogen oxides emissions. Emissions from coal-fired power plants have detrimental health effects on asthma sufferers, the elderly and children. Additionally, these emissions have been linked to forest degradation, waterway damage, reservoir contamination and deterioration of stone and copper in buildings.

To combat these adverse effects, the EPA and the Justice Department are pursuing a national initiative, targeting electric utilities whose coal-fired power plants violate the law.

The suits reverse the Bush Administration decision to only conclude the Clinton era NSR lawsuits and to not pursue new cases unless the involve violations of the Bush era  NSR regulations. In 2006, former EPA enforcement chief Grant Nakayama told Congress he would pursue investigations of coal-fired power plants only if they appeared to fall out of step with the administration's series of proposed and final changes to the NSR program .  On October 13, 2005 Marcus Peabody, Assistant Administrator, issued a memorandum to U.S. EPA's Office of Enforcement Compliance Assurance directing the office to pursue only cases involving violation of the Bush era NSR rules. 

The NSR directive is just one of many Bush evironmental policy and regulatory decisions that the Obama Administration has reversed.  Utility representatives said the Obama administration's efforts to ramp up NSR enforcement came as no surprise.

On February 25th, the Department of Justice has sued Louisiana Generating, alleging that the NRG Energy subsidiary violated New Source Review requirements by operating the Big Cajun 2 Power Plant without also installing and operating modern pollution control equipment after the generating units had undergone major “modifications.”(DOJ Press Release)

This follows a similar lawsuit filed earlier in February against Westar Energy, Inc for failing to install Best Available Control Technology (BACT) at one or more of its coal-fired power plants.  The complaint alleges that for more than a decade, the Jeffrey Energy Center has operated without the best available emissions-control technology required by the New Source Review provisions of the Clean Air Act to control emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide and particulate matter, contributing to formation of fine particulate matter, smog and acid rain.
 

Major Development Regarding CO2 Emissions from Coal Plants

May you live in interesting times....Yesterday EPA Administrator Jackson issued a letter granting the Sierra Club's petition for reconsideration of a Deseret Power memo issued by former EPA Administrator Johnson.  The Petition seeks reconsideration of the Johnson memo which interpreted EPA regulations defining the pollutants covered by federal permitting under the Clean Air Act.  The Johnson memo said that CO2 was not a regulated pollutant under the Clean Air Act (CAA) for purposes of permitting. 

The memo was issued following the decision by the EPA's Environmental Board of Review in the Deseret Power case concluding the CAA was ambiguous and that EPA had discretion to determine whether CO2 was a pollutant subject to regulation.  Johnson, in one of his last acts before leaving office, tried to fill the void by issuing an interpretive memo determining CO2 was not a regulated pollutant.

There was tremendous pressure on new EPA Administrator Jackson to revoke, stay or invalidate the memo.  Such action would have effectively put on hold about a 100 pending permits for coal fired power plants.  In a prior post, I predicted that despite the pressure Jackson would take a more deliberate approach.  She has done exactly that by not issuing a stay and announcing EPA will embark on a formal rulemaking process.  (even I get one right now and then)

While Jackson has chosen to address the issue slowly, she did include language in her letter that cast a great deal of uncertainty regarding pending permits:

In the meantime, the Agency emphasizes a point noted in the memorandum itself: the memorandum does not bind States issuing permits under their own State Implementation Plans.  In addition, given the Agency's decision to grant reconsideration of the memorandum, other PSD permitting authorities should not assume that the memorandum is the final word on the appropriate interpretation of Clean Air Act requirements.

While this statement casts some uncertainty, the Johnson memo is still legally effective.  Unlike others in the blogosphere predicting stoppage of all permitting for new coal plants,  I believe permits will still move forward in State's willing to issue them. 

Yesterday, EPA Administrator Jackson also issued a statement regarding her decision to grant reconsideration:

“I am granting this petition because we must learn more about how this memo affects all relevant stakeholders impacted by its provisions,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson “This will be a fair, impartial and open process that will allow the American public and key stakeholders to review this memorandum and to comment on its potential effects on communities across the country. EPA’s fundamental mission is to protect human health and the environment and we intend to do just that.”

My take on the statement is: a) EPA intends to move through a slow rulemaking process; and b) once EPA completes the rulemaking process you can pretty much count on the fact CO2 emissions will be regulated. 

 

Mercury, Cap and Trade, California Waiver and Other Developments on Climate Change and Coal

There has been major developments as a result of litigation, policy, rulemaking and legislation in the last few weeks relating to climate change and coal fired power plants.  Some changes are a result of outstanding litigation.  However, the most significant changes are indicative of the sea change that is occurring at the federal level under the Obama Administration relative to climate change. 

 Here is a review:

  1. EPA will not regulate mercury by cap and trade-  EPA Administrator Jackson announced today that the Agency will be moving forward with rulemaking to regulate mercury emissions from coal plants.  "President Obama's EPA does intend to regulate mercury under section 112 of the Clean Air Act," said Jackson. Acting solicitor general Edwin S. Kneedler will drop the prior appeal of the decision in New Jersey v. EPA which struck down the Bush Administration cap and trade proposal for regulating mercury.
  2. NEPA reviews of climate change impact required for oversees projects- The Obama Administration has settled an outstanding lawsuit which sought to compel NEPA reviews of climate change impacts for oversees projects financed with federal money.  Western cities and environmental groups alleged that Export-Import Bank of the United States and the Overseas Private Investment Corporation illegally provided more than $32 billion in financing and insurance to fossil fuel projects over 10 years without assessing whether the projects contributed to global warming or impacted the U.S. environment, as they were required to do under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).  The settlement will require NEPA reviews and will also require future reductions of greenhouse gases.
  3. BACT for coal plants does not mean IGCC-  A Texas Appeals Court rejected a challenge to a permit for a new 800 mw pulverized coal plant.  Appellants has argued the permit should have required IGCC technology as BACT instead of the proposed pulverized coal technology.  Consistent with other Court decisions looking at BACT, the Court said control technologies under BACT must be applied to the proposed project which in this case was a pulverized coal plant.
  4. No Climate Change Legislation This Year-  Senator Boxer released here principles for what must be included in the Senate version of climate change legislation.  Senator Boxer said “Copenhagen is December...That’s why I said we’ll have a bill out of this committee by then.”  However, any bill passing out the committee still must pass the full senate and be reconciled with the House bill.  This schedule renders it impossible that cap and trade legislation will pass Congress in 2009.
  5. EPA begins review of California Waiver Decision-  In a press release today, EPA announced they are beginning the review of the California waiver request to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles.  I think this quote from the EPA press release pretty much tells you what the outcome will be - "EPA believes that there are significant issues regarding the agency’s denial of the waiver. The denial was a substantial departure from EPA’s longstanding interpretation of the Clean Air Act’s waiver provisions. "

 (Photo: CJJohnson7/everystockphoto.com)

Ohio EPA and ODNR Propose Major Fee Increases in Upcoming State Budget

During Governor Strickland's State of the State he made the "no new taxes" pledge.  However, the Governor did mention that to balance the budget he will propose "new fees, fines and penalties."  No specifics were provided, however, now that details are beginning to take shape the Governor Strickland has been criticized for his roll out of the nearly 120 fee increases.

While there are more significant fee increases on vehicle registration and other health care related services, this being an environmental blog, I will focus on the new ODNR and Ohio EPA fee increases.  As discussed below, it is going to be more costly for businesses (and residents) to get rid of their waste.  This should create even a greater incentive for businesses to look at their practices and see if there are ways to reduce the amount of waste that has to be disposed of in solid waste landfills.   This could be through process changes that reduce the amount of waste generated or it could be recycling/re-use of waste materials generated.

However, the ability to recycle or re-use solid waste generated as part of business operations is dependent upon Ohio EPA's beneficial re-use rules.  Unfortunately, those rules have not come forward which makes it more difficult for businesses to evaluate their options.  While the fee increases may push evaluation of "greener" alternatives to disposal, businesses face uncertainty as long as clear re-use standards are not established.

Here is a link to a spreadsheet put together by the Ohio Office of Budget Management which shows all the fee increases and the projected revenue (which reaches over $1 billion dollars). Here is a breakdown of the proposed fee increases as it relates to the environment:

Municipal Solid Waste (MSW)
While I was at Ohio EPA, the agency moved from general revenue (GRF) to fees to pay for its programs.  The municipal solid waste tipping fee was chosen because it was a broad based fee that touches residents and businesses.  Due to its broad based application, the Agency could use the funding to support various programs outside of the Division of Solid and Infectious Waste.  Sort of like a tax...right.

The proposed state budget will build upon past fee increases and further increase the MSW tipping fee by $1.25 a ton. This will bring the MSW tipping fee from $3.50 a ton to $4.75 a ton. Of the proposed $1.25 increase,  Twenty-five cents would go to ODNR for the Soil and Water Conservation Districts. The remaining $1.00 will go to Ohio EPA to support various programs.

Construction and Demolition Debris (CDD)
The proposed budget will increase the CDD tipping fee by $2.70 a ton. This will bring the CDD tipping fee from $1.70 a ton to $4.40 a ton. This amounts to an 60% increase in the fees for CDD.  The $2.70 increase would be divided as follows:  $2.25 will go to ODNR for the Soil and Water Conservation Districts and .45 will got to Ohio EPA for operation costs throughout the agency.

Green building practices under the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED program award points for recycling and reuse of construction waste.  With this significant fee increase contractors and project owners should seriously contemplate recycling this material versus disposal even if they are not working on a green building project.

New E-Check Fee
Ohio EPA has proposed an increasing the fee for purchasing new tires by $2.30 per tire.  This fee is projected to generated $15 million in new revenue.  The previous tire fee was used to pay for programs to eliminate tire dumps around the State.  This has been one of the greatest success stories in Ohio.  This increase would be devoted to an entirely new purpose-paying for Ohio's automobile emission testing program (E-check).

Energy Extraction Fees

ODNR for its part has proposed a new fee on oil, coal and natural gas extraction.  Together these fees are projected to generate over $7 million in new revenue.  The energy extraction fees have not been warmly received by industry who argue that raising costs on these energy related resources will simply result in increased costs for individuals and businesses around the state.  

As fees go up for use of resources and disposal of waste, businesses have further incentive to examine green alternatives.  This could be improved energy efficiency. establishment of a co-gen facility that could reduce electric fees, recycling, and reduction of waste streams.

(Photo:D'Arcy Norman/everystockphoto.com)

What Would BACT be for CO2?

With recent developments in climate change litigation, including the Deseret Power decision, it appears we are moving ever closer to requiring control of CO2 from coal fired power plants and other major sources of CO2.   Outgoing EPA Administrator Johnson may have delayed things temporarily by issuing his memo in response to Deseret Power. However, incoming EPA Administrator Jackson has pledged to quickly review the California waiver request that would allow the State to set CO2 emission standards for cars. If that happens, the dominoes will soon fall requiring controls for CO2 for all major sources under the Clean Air Act.

A positive "endangerment finding" in response to the California Waiver request will trigger a host of other regulations. Those would include requiring emission controls from new major sources of CO2 and other greenhouse gases under EPA's New Source Review permit program. 

If new or modified sources are required to control CO2, then as part of their permit they will be required to install Best Available Control Technology (BACT) to reduce CO2 emissions if located in an area that meets federal air quality standards.  More stringent limits (Lowest Achievable Emission Rate- LAER) apply in areas that don't meet air quality standards. 

The focus of all the recent litigation has been on whether to require CO2 controls as part of a BACT permit review.  But that begs a very interesting question....What would BACT be for CO2?

I was asked this very question during a recent interview I had with a reporter from Inside EPA.  That sent me to research the issue.   My review shows to things:  1) there is a wide divergence of opinion among experts as to what BACT would likely be;  and 2) EPA has a fair amount of discretion to determine the BACT standard for CO2.  Once it is decided that BACT must be required to control CO2 (and other greenhouse gases), Industry insiders expect EPA would take at a minimum 6 months to decide the issue.

Reading the tea leaves, I think we can begin to decipher an answer as to what BACT may constitute.  We certainly can eliminates some suggestion offered by pundits based upon how EPA has applied the BACT standard in the past.  Here is what we know....

  1. There are no current EPA endorsed technologies for controlling CO2EPA's current RACT/BACT/LAER clearinghouse doesn't have anything on CO2.  The clearinghouse is used to identify various control technologies that would be deemed to meet the various standards on specific industries or technologies. 
  2. BACT is a site-specific, case-by-case decision which means uncertainty.  In testimony  House Government Reform and Oversight Committee, attorneys Peter Glaser and John Cline stated the following: "Since BACT determinations for CO2 have no regulatory history at this time, and can vary by type of facility and from state-to-state, businesses wishing to construct new sources or modify existing ones would have no basis for planning what the regulatory requirements will be."
  3. Case law and regulatory decisions of EPA establish parameters for the BACT analysis.  As detailed below, case law in the context of BACT for coal plants can be extrapolated to CO2.  The same general guidelines used to evaluate controls for other pollutants (SO2, CO, mercury, NOx) will be used for CO2. 

Now lets turn to a review of experts who have offered their opinion as to which technologies should be considered BACT for CO2.  Here is one guess from the blog Cleanergy.org:

BACT for CO2 is unlikely to mean carbon capture and storage (yet), since it's not readily available, but it will probably mean some combination of co-generation (making use of waste heat from electricity generation), efficiency improvements, and/or fuel switching/co-firing with biomass. Ultimately, President-elect Obama's EPA gets to decide how BACT is defined for CO2, a process which will take at least a year. 

Joseph Romm, author of the blog Climate Progress, offered his opinion of what BACT for CO2 may look like.

Certainly it is going to slow down the permitting of any new coal plant dramatically, until the EPA figures out the answer to the $64 billion question: What is BACT for CO2 for a coal plant? That will probably take the Obama EPA at least 12 months to decide in a rule-making process. But from my perspective it could/should/must include one or more of:


a) Co-firing with biomass — up to 25% cofiring has been demonstrated
b) Highest efficiency plants
c) Cogeneration
(i.e. recycled energy)
d) (possibly even) Gasification with, yes, carbon capture and storage (CCS)

Here are some other opinions as to possible technologies that would qualify as BACT for coal-fired power plants:

  1. Solar Thermal at a Coal Power Plant- mix the steam from solar thermal with steam from the boiler to reduce emissions. 
  2. Highly Efficient Boilers-  Jeff Holmstead, former Chief Air Official for U.S. EPA, has said he  BACT would be for CO2 right now given costs and development of other control technology.

But let's look at the legal guidance associated with BACT.  In doing so, some of the technologies suggested seem "not ready for prime time" or would not be considered a control technology but rather a different type of generation. 

BACT is determined through a case-by-case evaluation of control technology alternatives and involves a complicated weighing of economic, environmental, energy and other factors. BACT can even be no control measure if that weighing process fails to identify a technically and economically feasible technology for controlling the pollutant in question.

A detailed discussion of the permitting process and legal aspects of a BACT analysis is provided below.  The single biggest consideration is that BACT takes the project as proposed and establishes the lowest achievable emission rate for the various pollutants.

This means BACT cannot fundamentally change the design of the proposed project.  This is why EPA has rejected establishing IGCC as BACT.  If the permit applicant is proposing a traditional pulverized coal boiler, then limits must be established based upon what is achievable for that type of boiler.

This eliminates many of the control technologies suggested by pundits:

  1. IGCC- would force a redesign and would be rejected
  2. Solar Thermal Combined with a Coal Boiler- would be rejected as forcing a redesign
  3. Carbon Capture and Storage- This one is interesting.  Under BACT you must take the geographical location of the project into consideration.  If the geologic considerations would make CCS infeasible for the project it could not be required.  In addition, CCS is certainly not ready for prime time and could not be required as part of BACT for any site right now.

Some other technologies are more likely to be considered BACT:

  1. High Efficiency Boilers- this would likely be required to reduce emissions
  2. Co-firing with biomass-  depending on the project, this could be required.  Co-firing reduces CO2 emissions.  BACT does involve consideration of "clean fuels", however co-firing biomass would likely be rejected if it caused a major redesign of the facility.
  3. Coal Drying- By removing moisture from the coal you can reduce CO2 emissions.  Similar to co-firing biomass this could be required if it doesn't force a major redesign of the project.

What are the legal components of a BACT determination?

Here is the Clean Air Act definition of BACT:

The term “best available control technology” means an emission limitation based on the maximum degree of reduction of each pollutant subject to regulation under
this chapter emitted from or which results from any major emitting facility, which the permitting authority, on a case-by-case basis, taking into account energy,
environmental, and economic impacts and other costs, determines is achievable for such facility through application of production processes and available
methods, systems, and techniques, including fuel cleaning, clean fuels, or treatment or innovative fuel combustion techniques for control of each such
pollutant.

EPA's New Source Review Manual calls for a "top down analysis" of control technologies for each regulated pollutant emitted by the proposed source.  All potential control technologies are identified at the start and as you work down the steps you see if any should be eliminated.  The most effective control technology remaining after Step 5 is then considered BACT.  Here are the five distinct steps of the "top down analysis":

  1. Identify all potential control options
  2. Eliminate technology infeasible controls- the control technology must be "demonstrated" to work on a commercial scale over a sufficient period of time.
  3. Rank remaining control technologies by control efficiency
  4. Consider the energy, economic and environmental effects of the control technology-  proposed technologies can be eliminated based upon cost effectiveness or because they reduced energy efficiency.
  5. Select the most effective control technology that was not eliminated in Step 4 of the process.

Here are some key considerations that can be gleaned from case law surrounding BACT determinations:

  • Case-by-case analysis- Each project is examined on its own.  Examine the proposed fuel, type of source and geographic location when establishing emission limits.  BACT is not a universal control standard for all projects.  Instead, it takes each project case-by-case and determines what is the lowest achievable limit.
  • "Achievable"- the established emission limit must have been met on a continual basis. Optimum performance is not the test, rather the limit must be consistently met over a period of time.  The limit will often include a "safety factor" or "cushion" to ensure the limit can be met over the life of the facility.
  • "Available" control technology- must be demonstrated at a commercial sized source for a sufficient period of time.
  • Does not redefine the source-  Must look at the proposed design of the project and go from there in setting limits.  You cannot force a redesign.  For instance, BACT could not require renewable energy generation instead of coal. 
  • Can consider economic, environmental or energy impacts in eliminating control technologies-  cost can be a consideration in choosing a control technology.  For instance, if the cost effectiveness of a control technology is low it can be eliminated from consideration.

 

Window Closing on Permits Without CO2 Regulation

(Image: CO2 Emissions in the U.S.)

Perhaps its obvious that the window of opportunity to obtain an air permit without CO2 controls is closing quickly.   Don't delude yourself that controls will wait for Congressional action on climate change.

The battle over requiring CO2 controls without additional rulemaking or legislation is being waged right now. The saga is being played out in the aftermath of the Deseret Power decision and the ensuing memo issued by EPA Administrator Johnson.  Here is a quick synopsis of what has transpired to date:

  1. Deseret Power rejected EPA's basis for approving permits without CO2 controls.  However, the Environmental Review Board left the window open.  It said EPA could come out with a new position on the issue as to whether CO2 is a "regulated permit."
  2. EPA Administrator Johnson quickly took advantage of the opening issuing a new interpretative memo saying the Clean Air Act's requirement to monitor CO2 was not tantamount to regulation of CO2.  Therefore, new permits did not need to include controls for CO2. 
  3. In the latest round of the Deseret saga, the Sierra Club has filed a petition challenging the legality of the Johnson memo.  Citing Section 307(d) of the Clean Air Act, the group argues EPA's memo amounts to a new substantive rulemaking that must go through the notice and comment process.  If EPA denies the petition, the Sierra Club can appeal directly to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals.  The hope is that if the memo is declared illegal an Obama Administration would issue a much different memo- one saying controls for CO2 are required.

To me the saga over the Deseret Power decision is a simply good theater.  The fact is CO2 will be a regulated pollutant and soon.  In my mind, if you are seeking an air permit for a source with significant CO2 emissions you may have less than a year or so to get your permit before the whole playing field changes.   We should look to clues from President-elect Obama's pick to head the EPA as to what may happen in the near future.

President-elect Obama named Lisa Jackson to head U.S. EPA.  Ms. Jackson was the former Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection.  According to some national news organization she brings a mixed record.  U.S. News and World Report stated the following:

She is credited with helping put New Jersey in a leadership role on the issue of climate change and with encouraging the state to adopt a moratorium on building new coal plants. Yet she also has made choices that have been applauded by industry, including an effort earlier this year to use private companies to clean up thousands of contaminated sites around the state.

In recent days, when Jackson's name emerged as Obama's likely pick, some of these issues resurfaced. A few New Jersey-based environmental groups have put out press releases criticizing Jackson's record, and their comments have gotten national attention. But many observers say the criticism is overblown and that Jackson, though having at times taken stands the groups didn't fully agree with, has largely been an ally.
 

Jackson's background shows EPA is likely to take some form of quick action on CO2 shortly after January 20th with Obama is sworn into office.  New Jersey participates in RGGI which is the cap and trade program for CO2 emissions from power plants in the Northeast.  Is no surprise Jackson and the rest of the Obama team strongly supports a national greenhouse gas cap and trade program.  However, such legislation is likely a year away at a minimum. 

What may happen in the interim?  There are several issues pending before U.S. EPA that could result in regulation of CO2 in the near term.  

  1. The "endangerment finding" on CO2- EPA still needs to take action in response to the Supreme Court's decision in Massachusetts v. EPA.  This is the case regarding California's request for a waiver to set standards for CO2 from vehicles.  While the Court said CO2 is a pollutant, under Section 202(a)(1) of the Clean Air Act vehicle emission of greenhouse gases are not regulated until the EPA determines CO2 from cars would "endanger  public health and welfare."
  2. Deseret Power interpretive memo-   An Obama Administration could also try and retract the memo issued by EPA Administrator Johnson in response to Deseret Power. 
  3. Comprehensive Rulemaking on GHG Regulation-  EPA has issued its Advanced Notice of Public Rulemaking seeking comments as to whether to comprehensively regulate CO2 and other GHGs under the Clean Air Act.  An Obama Administration could accelerate action on this rulemaking effort. 

One of these three course of action will happen.  The question is just how soon.  New Jersey declared CO2 an air contaminant back in 2005.  In order to make such a declaration, New Jersey had to go through a formal rulemaking process declaring CO2 "injurious to human health and welfare."  Take a look at the conclusions in the NJ rulemaking, don't they appear to be exactly what would be need for an endangerment finding?

This interpretation (declaring CO2 an air contaminant)  is consistent with the statutory definition of air pollution at N.J.S.A. 26:2C-2 and the Department’s regulatory definition of “air pollution” at N.J.A.C. 7:27-5.1, which states that “’air pollution’ means the presence in the outdoor atmosphere of one or more air contaminants in such quantities and duration as are, or tend to be, injurious to human health or welfare, animal or plant life or property, or would unreasonably interfere with the enjoyment of life or property throughout the State ….”


The exclusion of CO2 as an air contaminant is no longer valid, given the intent of the Department’s definition of air contaminant throughout N.J.A.C. 7:27 and the definition of air pollution at N.J.A.C. 7:27-5.1, because scientific evidence has evolved to the point that adverse environmental and human health impacts due to increasing concentrations of CO2 in the atmosphere are now clear.

Also, New Jersey passed the New Jersey Global Warming Response Act which committed the state to returning global warming pollution to 1990 levels by 2020 and cutting global warming pollution levels by 80 percent by 2050.  New Jersey is only one of three states to make greenhouse gas reductions state law. 

The pressure on Jackson to take action to block new coal plants and regulate CO2 will be enormous.  She will have a hard time defending a slow and deliberate pace when her State has already taken significant action, including a State-like "endangerment finding."  This means some type of action to regulate CO2 will likely come in the first year of the Obama Administration.  As a result, the window of opportunity to avoid CO2 controls in a permit is closing quickly.   

The most likely course of action could be peeling the endangerment finding away from the ANPR and proceeding with a finding CO2 does endanger public health.  The other option that could have a quick and dramatic impact would be to retract the Johnson memo responding to Deseret Power.  A Jackson EPA could declare the memo was issued illegally and issue a new interpretive memo. 

(Image:  flickr Tom Raftery)

EPA Responds to Deseret Power, CO2 Not a Regulated Pollutant

When the Environmental Review Board (EAB) issued its decision in Deseret Power, the Sierra Club and many others across the Internet declared victory claiming the decision would block permits for new coal fired power plants for the immediate future.  Looks like they may have been premature...  

The EPA issued a significant interpretive memorandum in response to the Deseret Power case which states CO2 is not a regulated pollutant under the Clean Air Act.   While more litigation will ensue, the permitting process can move forward on pending permits for new coal plants.

Background on Deseret Power

At issue in Deseret Power was whether controls were required (BACT) for CO2 for new coal-fired power plants.  Under the Clean Air Act, controls are required for CO2 if it is a "regulated pollutant." The Sierra Club pointed to provisions requiring monitoring of CO2, arguing those provisions were sufficient to be deemed "regulation."  EPA said monitoring requirements were insufficient and that past interpretations dictated a conclusion that monitoring was not enough to qualify as regulation.

As indicated in my post on the decision, the EAB in essence punted on the issue.  They rejected the Sierra Club's argument that the plain text of the Clean Air Act required regulation.  They also rejected the EPA analysis that past interpretations required it to conclude monitoring was not enough to trigger the need for controls.  However, the EAB said EPA has discretion to decide whether monitoring is enough to trigger the need to control through a new binding interpretation of what is sufficient to be considered a "regulated pollutant."

EPA Fills the Vacuum Left By the EAB

Here is Administrator Johnson's review of the EAB order, recognizing the discretion his agency retains:

The Board agreed with the Region and OAR that the statutory phrase "subject to regulation under this Act" is ambiguous. However, as discussed above, the Board also concluded that the Region's reason for not including a BACT limit for C02 in the permit - that it was bound by a historic interpretation of the phrase "subject to regulation" - was not supported by the administrative record for the permit. Id. Thus, the Board remanded the permit to the Region to "reconsider whether or not to impose a C02 BACT limit in light of the Agency's discretion to interpret, consistent with the CAA, what constitutes a 'pollutant subject to regulation under this Act."' The EAB also encouraged EPA offices to consider whether to undertake an action of nationwide scope to address the interpretation of the phrase "subject to regulation under the Act."

After citing to EPA's discretion, EPA concludes monitoring is insufficient to trigger controls for CO2:

EPA interprets the definition of "regulated NSR pollutant" in 40 C.F.R. 8
52.21(b)(50) to exclude pollutants for which EPA regulations only require monitoring or reporting but to include each pollutant subject to either a provision in the Clean Air Act or regulation promulgated by EPA under the Clean Air Act that requires actual control of emissions of that pollutant.  This interpretation is supported by the language and structure of the regulation and sound policy considerations.

EPA supports its interpretation by looking at the dictionary definitions of the words "subject to regulation."  However, this justification is pretty close to the one put forward to the EAB in the appeal which the EAB rejected.   EPA further supports this interpretation by arguing it amounts to sound public policy:

Furthermore, an interpretation that preserves the Agency's ability to gather information to inform the Administrator's judgment regarding the need to establish controls on emissions without automatically triggering such controls in no way limits the Agency's authority to require controls on emissions of a particular pollutant when the Administrator determines they are warranted. This
interpretation preserves the Administrator's authority to require control of individual pollutants through emissions limitations or other restrictions under various provisions of the Act, which would then trigger the requirements of the PSD program for any pollutant addressed in such an action.

EPA also attempts to create a better record in support of its interpretative ruling by citing to a series of previous permitting decisions that are consistent with this approach.  The permits arguably "demonstrate that EPA has not in practice issued PSD permits establishing emissions limitations for pollutants that are subject to only monitoring and reporting requirements."

Observations

  1. More Litigation to Follow:  This interpretative memo will be challenged.  EPA certainly builds support for its interpretation, most notably by citing to a series of prior permit decisions that are in harmony with its interpretation. However, it is principally relying on a similar textual interpretation of the phrasing of the Clean Air Act that had, in part, been rejected by the EAB in Deseret.
  2. EPA Rushed to Issue the Memo Before the Change in Administration:  The EAB recognized EPA had discretion to go either way in deciding to regulate CO2 under the Clean Air Act.  The Bush Administration did not want to allow this decision to be made by the next Administration, so it issued the memo without allowing for public comment which would have delayed finalization of the memo.  Administrator Johnson justifies cutting out public comment by citing to the need to keep the permitting process moving forward because a large number of permits put in limbo following Deseret. 
  3. The Bush Administration's action ties the Obama Administration hand for the short term:  Administrator Johnson's memo cites to a series of cases that "recognized that an Agency has the flexibility to establish an initial interpretation of a regulation without engaging in a notice and comment process."  This memorandum is meant to be that "initial interpretation", which means the Obama Administration could not change it without going through a formal rulemaking process with a public comment period.  In the short term, this action keeps the permit processing moving forward for nearly 100 pending permits.

 

CO2 Decision Impacts Ohio Coal Plant Permits

 

It didn't take long for the Deseret Power Decision to come back to Ohio.  The debate is over whether a permit for the proposed coal to liquid fuel plant proposed by Baard Energy and AMP Ohio's new coal power plant can move forward in light of the decision.  Here is a sampling of the debate over the Baard project as it appears in the local paper The Vindicator:

The statements came as the state EPA is on the brink of issuing an air permit for the proposed $5.5 billion Baard Energy plant that would turn coal into liquid fuel. Settles said a decision is expected to be made within the next two weeks.

The air permit would be the final permit needed to begin construction that would be a boost to the local economy. Permits regulating the plant’s effects on water and wetlands have already been approved.

In a statement, the Sierra Club said it went before the EPA Appeals Board in May of this year to request that the air permit for Deseret Power Electric Cooperative’s proposed waste coal-fired power plant in Utah be overturned because it failed to require any controls on carbon dioxide pollution.

The Sierra Club’s statement said the decision means that all new and proposed coal plants nationwide must go back and address their carbon dioxide emissions.
 

AMP Ohio's permit is facing an equal challenge.  In today'sDaily Sentinel, AMP Ohio was a bit cautious in its statements:

Carson (AMP Ohio) also pointed out, the decision was not in Ohio, which has a fully approved state permitting program, and that AMP-Ohio has worked for over a year in cooperation with Ohio EPA in meeting all requirements of Ohio law in regards to getting the plant online. Carson also pointed out the permit for the Utah plant was not denied but sent back to a regional office for reevaluation.

In a press release, the Sierra Club stated: “Two of the largest new coal proposals for Ohio, the AMP-Ohio power plant in Meigs County and the Baard liquid coal plant in Columbiana County, are likely to face setbacks from the ruling. Both companies had previously insisted that carbon dioxide should remain unregulated — an argument rejected in today’s ruling — and had resisted attempts to establish carbon limits in their air permits.”

Obviously there is a disagreement between the Sierra Club and Ohio EPA on how the decision will affect the permits at issue.  While Ohio EPA is correct that it is one federal court decision, the two cases that have had final decisions issued on whether C02 must be evaluated as part of federal New Source Review (NSR) have certainly been more in favor of requiring controls.  The Georgia State court held CO2 is a regulated pollutant and the pollution control analysis (BACT) for the new coal plant had to include controls for CO2.

The Sierra Club is a certainly overstating the decision in Deseret (see their Press Release) by claiming that all new coal plants must address CO2.  As discussed in my last post, the Environmental Appeals Board remanded the permit to U.S. EPA.  The Board said U.S. EPA has discretion to go either way- determine CO2 is a regulated pollutant or decide monitoring requirements are not enough to trigger requirements to control CO2. 

The Board did reject U.S.EPA's basis for saying historical precedent tied its hands from determining monitoring was enough to trigger regulation of CO2.  However, the Board did not say U.S. EPA couldn't develop a defensible position.

What is certain, is there is tremendous uncertainty.  From these comments we can anticipate Ohio EPA will issue the permit (known as "The Ohio River Clean Fuels LLC") without requiring analysis of CO2.  The Baard permit will be challenged and it is totally uncertain as to whether the permit will be invalidated by either a State or Federal Court in Ohio. The AMP Ohio Permit faces similar uncertainty.

Ohio Job Stimulus Package- Advanced Energy Grants and Loans Available

On Friday, November 7th, the Ohio Air Quality Development Authority (OAQDA) held a bidders conference to launch the Advanced Energy/Job Stimulus Program.  The Job Stimulus package set aside $150 million (over three years) to increase the development, production and use of advanced energy technologies in the state.

Those interested can begin filing applications for either grants or loans through the web portal on OAQDA's web page.  Unlike other competitive programs decisions will be made on a rolling basis, there is no deadline for filing applications.  However, $150 million is not a lot of funding for the types of projects involved, therefore it is likely available funds will dissipate quickly. 

The program has two separate pots of money:

  • $66 million for clean coal technology projects administered through OAQDA’s Ohio Coal Development Office (OCDO).  Grants can be for up to $5 million for each project  The funding set aside for these projects is similar to other funding opportunities that have been provided by the OCDO.  Proposals will be reviewed by staff, outside reviewers and the Technical Advisory Committee and approved by OAQDA;
  • $84 million for renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. Grants will be awarded in amounts from $50,000 to $250,000.  Loans will be $1 million to $2 million.  Funding will be in three $28 million annual appropriations administered by OAQDA. Projects will be reviewed by staff and outside reviewers, the Development Finance Advisory Council, approved by OAQDA.  Before funding can be awarded Legislative approval is necessary through the Controlling Board.
     

Some of the tips provided to bidders during the conference include:

  1. "Tipping Point"-  Explain why a grant award or loan would be the tipping point in the project.  Would it help get the project through a difficult time?  Would funding allow some type of breakthrough? Would it lead to a possible major expansion in Ohio?
  2. Jobs, Jobs, Jobs-  The main point of the funding is to stimulate job growth in the Ohio.  Therefore, you must be prepared to demonstrate that the project will generate jobs immediately.  New jobs will be favored over retained jobs.  Better if the are considered "foundational jobs"- meaning the project will lead to more jobs in the future.  Also, want to see better paying jobs.  
  3. Leverage- The State wants to see that a grant award will other funding in the project.  Private funding is favored over other public financing.  The higher the leverage the better the application will be viewed. 

Applications can be made through the web portal.  To start the process applicants must only fill out a "letter of intent" which requires only minimal information.  OAQDA said at the bidders conference it is there goal to weed out unfundable projects early in the process. 

One other note, if you are going to pursue a coal grant, be advised that similiar with other funding through the OCDO, you will be required to sign a royalty/payment agreement.  OCDO is required by statute to seek a recovery for investing in research and development projects.  While I understand it is in the statute,  this requirement discourages businesses looking for funding that will accelerate commercial deployment of a proven technology. 

 (Photo: Great Valley Center Image Bank/everystockphoto.com)

With the Energy Crisis Temporarily Over, So is the Green Job Push

I have discussed  the ability of green jobs to help stimulate our economy.  However, that was before our energy crisis ended....temporarily.  The Wall Street Journal discussed President Elect Obama's plan to add 5 million new jobs through spending on clean energy.  As shown below, the Article questions the economic theory behind that plan.  Stating the Obama proposal does not account for the jobs that would be lost in the gas and coal sectors of the economy when such a shift occurs. 

The green-jobs argument rests on the notion that big capital investments in new-energy technology today will be more than offset by savings in reduced fossil-fuel costs. Though oil prices have fallen, the International Energy Agency predicted Thursday that once the economy picks up again, they will resume climbing, potentially topping $200 a barrel by 2030. The IEA called the current energy system "patently unsustainable" and called for "radical action by governments."

Several studies estimate that $1 invested in renewable energy or energy efficiency would yield up to four times as many jobs as $1 invested in oil and gas, whose basic infrastructure of wells, refineries and pipelines has been around for years. Moreover, those studies say, clean-energy jobs are likely to be centered in the U.S., unlike jobs in the oil and gas industry, which increasingly are spread around the world.

Critics say analyzing only new green jobs misses half the story. "It's not looking at the other side of the coin: You are spending more money for your energy," says Anne Smith, a vice president at CRA International. The consulting firm wrote a report for the coal-mining industry in April that concluded that, under a bill to cap global-warming emissions, gains in green jobs would be "more than offset" by job losses elsewhere in the economy. That bill failed, but Mr. Obama has said he supports capping emissions.
 

While the journal focuses on the loss in jobs in oil and gas, I think the main issue is the fall in commodity prices like oil and coal.  When those prices were soaring everyone wanted to shift into alternative energy, however the energy crisis is temporarily over.  I highlighted the statement in the article that "once fossil fuel prices climb again" the shift to clean energy will make sense.  The key is..."once the prices climb again."

Once the world economy grows again we will be in the same place we were in this summer.  It is a fact that there is just only so much oil to go around.  However, as discussed in my last post, the failing economy will also temporarily take away the momentum behind the green jobs push.  With oil down below $60 a barrel, the strong motivating factor that made everyone interested in alternative sources of energy is temporarily gone.  Right now we will be going into survival mode.  The question will remain for business- "What is the cheapest form of energy right now?" 

When commodity prices climb again (and they will), businesses will again consider clean energy has a hedge against ever escalating commodity prices.

(Photo: Flickr Crashworks)

Utah Supreme Court Allows Citizens to Vote on New Coal Plant

The creativity of those opposed to new coal plants seems to have no bounds.  The most recent effort is to place a referendum on the ballot to allow citizens to vote whether a permit should be issued for a new coal plant in Utah. The referendum would amend the county's conditional-use permit ordinance to require voter approval prior to issuing permits for coal-fired power plants.

In a effort to block this type of referendum effort, the Utah Legislature passed H.B. 53 which says that the voters of any county, city or town may not initiate a land use ordinance or a change in a land use ordinance.  The Legislature also said that the people may not require a land use ordinance passed by the local legislative body (city council or county commission) to be submitted to the voters for approval before it can take effect (i.e. a referendum).

A lower court blocked the referendum, but the Supreme Court of Utah said it should be placed on the ballot.   Here is my favorite observation... a company representative said that getting a permit for a coal-fired power plant these days "is not for the faint of heart."

As I have commented in prior posts, a top priority of those concerned with climate change is to stop construction of new coal fired power plants, almost through any means necessary.  We have seen a call for citizen protests, various lawsuits filed, appeals of permits, legislation and now a proposal to let citizens vote on whether a permit should be issued. 

(Photo: Flickr Jeffreyd00)

Gore Calls For Protests to Stop New Coal Plants Over Global Warming

Al Gore, speaking at the annual meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, called for young people to perform acts of civil disobedience to stop construction of new coal plants.  He also has called for State Attorney Generals to review whether utilities are committing stock fraud by discounting the threat of global warming. 

I put this post up after writing yesterday about the Arkansas proposal to pass legislation prohibiting construction of new coal plants.  Preventing construction of new coal plants that do not use carbon sequestration appears to be the number one strategy of green groups and those concerned with global warming. 

Ohio could soon be a major battle ground.  While the AMP Ohio facility has received its permit for construction of its new baseload coal power plant, it should be bracing itself for challenges on all fronts. During the public comment period on the new period concern was expressed that the facility would emit 7.3 million tons of CO2 per year.  Right now AMP Ohio appears to be the rare coal plant project that is still moving forward having received its authorization to construct from Ohio EPA.

Arkansas Considers Ban on New Coal Plants

 

As reported in the Texarkana Gazette, the Arkansas State Commission on Global Warming is likely to recommend a ban on new coal fired power plants.  The Commission is also proposing construction of a new $1.5 billion dollar plant be delayed until carbon sequestration technology can be added to the plant. 

What is the Arkansas Governor's Commission on Global Warming?  Here is a description taken right from its web page:

With the signing of Act 696 of the Arkansas 86Th General Assembly (HB2460), Governor Mike Beebe established the Governor’s Commission on Global Warming. By design the Commission represents a wide diversity of views and perspectives with members coming from business, industry, environmental groups, and academia.

The Commission is charged with setting a “global warming pollution reduction goal” for Arkansas and a “comprehensive strategic plan for implementation of the global warming pollution reduction goal.” The Act sets several study and evaluation requirements and requires a final report be provided to the Governor by November 1, 2008.
 

The developments in Arkansas represent yet another in a series of legal, legislative and political attacks on new coal fired power plants.  The attacks have been successful, between 2007 and 2008 plans for at least 69 coal plants have been canceled.

In the article a utility representative comments that the decision would force continued use of older less efficient coal fired power plants.  His argument that the decision will be bad overall for the environment. 

While I sympathize with the argument we should not be adding to the problem, what alternatives are being suggested to replace old plants or meet ever increasing demands for electricity?  While renewables are a great solution, there is no denying they do not provide the baseload generation of either a coal or nuclear plant. 

 

Carbon Sequestration Regulation and Permitting Moves Forward

Carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) is a critical strategy proposed for combating climate change.  It involves the injection of CO2, a greenhouse gas, generated by coal-fired power plants and industrial facilities deep beneath the earth's surface for long term storage. 

There are potential significant issues with CCS, including:

  1. 1.  Pollutants from the plant mixing with the CO2 that is injected leading to contamination of water supplies;
  2. 2.  Potential mobility of CO2 once it is injected; and
  3. 3.  Corrositivity of CO2 may result in release of subsurface contaminants into drinking water supplies

The Department of Energy and Coal State's are betting heavily on the success of carbon sequestration.  Federal funds are supporting some 25 projects around the country that will investigate the feasibility of CCS. 

To address the concerns with CCS, U.S. EPA and the States are beginning to develop regulations for CCS projects.  This Summer major developments include release of U.S. EPA's rules and the issuance of an Underground Injection Control (UIC) permit by Ohio EPA for an Ohio test site.

Beginning this month, the Midwest Regional Carbon Sequestration Project (MRCSP) is utilizing FirstEnergy's R.E. Burger Plant as a test site for injection of up to 3,000 tons of CO2. As reported on the MRCSP web page, the period of injection could vary from three to eight weeks, depending on the properties of the injection zones and the time needed for experimental set-up, regulatory oversight and monitoring.

The injection follows Ohio EPA's issuance on September 2, 2008 of a permit to allow the installation and pilot testing of the underground injection well for purposes of carbon sequestration.  This is the first permit issued in Ohio that would allow injection of CO2 subsurface for purposes of carbon sequestration.  Some interesting aspects of the permit include:

  1. Injection will occur at three different geologic locations-  the intervals range from 5,923 feet to 8,274 feet below surface.  The intervals are selected to prevent mobility of the injected CO2.
  2. Closure financial responsibility-  Total project closeout including closure of the well in accordance with regulatory requirements were estimated at $75,000 to $100,000.  This amount only covers sealing of the well.  No money is set aside in the event any other issues arise. Some may question whether this is sufficient financial assurance if it was anything other than a test site.
  3. Monitoring of Injected Fluids-  On a quarterly basis, the injected material will be analyzed for various contaminants including SO2, NOx, particulate matter, and mercury.  The monitoring is an attempt to verify contaminants from the plant are not mixed with the injected CO2.

Issuance of the permit precedes finalization of U.S. EPA proposed rules governing regulation of carbon sequestration projects.   U.S. EPA's proposed rules and Ohio EPA's permit rely on similar legal authority on the Safe Drinking Water Act (SWDA).  The permit together with the proposed rules give insight into how CCS projects could be regulated in the future. Areas covered by both the permit and U.S. EPA's proposed rule include:

  • Geologic site characterization to ensure that wells are appropriately sited
  • Requirements to construct wells in a manner that prevents fluid movement into unintended zones;
  • Periodic re-evaluation of the area around the injection well to verify that the CO2 is moving as predicted within the subsurface;
  • Testing of the mechanical integrity of the injection well, ground water monitoring, and tracking of the location of the injected CO2 to ensure protection of underground sources of drinking water;
  • Extended post-injection monitoring and site care to track the location of the injected CO2 and monitor subsurface pressures; and
  • Financial responsibility requirements to assure that funds will be available for well plugging, site care, closure, and emergency and remedial response.

While the regulations and permitting of CCS are moving forward, not everyone is embracing CCS. In recent testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Environment and Hazardous Materials, serious concerns were raised by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) about the potential effect CCS technology may have on the nation's underground sources of drinking water.  Strong regulations and successful pilot tests will go a long way to addressing these concerns.

 

Ohio Proposes Rules Governing Renewable Energy and Clean Coal

On August 20th, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) proposed administrative rules for the implementation of Ohio's Alternative Energy Portfolio Standard.  Approximately 26 states have enacted renewable portfolio standards (RPS) that mandate a certain percentage of electricity supplied in the state come from renewable sources.  Only one other State, Pennsylvania expanded the mandate to cover additional sources of energy beyond renewables. 

Ohio has now gone beyond Pennsylvania in promoting other "advanced energy sources."  Ohio is the first State in the Country to allow the following resources to be eligible toward meeting the advanced energy mandate:

  • Clean Coal Technology
  • Technology or improvements that reduce CO2 emissions
  • Enhancement of Nuclear Power

Under Senate Bill 221, and as set forth in the proposed rules, 12.5% of power supplied in Ohio must come from these and other advanced energy sources (fuel cells, distributed generation, fuel cells, solid waste to energy and energy efficiency projects) by 2025. 

The proposed rules are pretty standard on the renewable side.  The include provisions used by other states who have already had an RPS.  The rules provide for annual benchmarks, alternative compliance payments, use of renewable energy credits (RECs) and costs caps on meeting the RPS. 

It is significant that Ohio has developed a more complex and interesting portfolio standard for advanced energy sources.  However, where the SB 221 was very prescriptive as to meeting the renewable standard requirements, the legislation was vague on the advanced energy side of the standard.  Unfortunately, the draft rules fail to provide much needed detail.

Here are some issues that should be addressed to better promote advanced energy sources:

  1. Benchmarks-  SB 221 did not include them for meeting the advanced energy standard.  The rules should at least require meaningful evaluation as to progress toward meeting the mandate to supply 12.5% from advanced energy sources by 2025.
  2. Establish a Currency-  On the renewable side, Ohio is following the well established method of buying and selling renewable energy certificates (RECs).  One megawatt of renewable power equals one REC.  There is no such currency established for the advanced energy portion of the standard.
  3. Better define each advanced energy resource-  Most importantly, the definitions of what types of projects qualify are far too vague.
  • Example 1: The rules say "a significant improvement to an existing nuclear" facility qualifies.  There is no definition of "significant."  What type of enhancements are we trying to promote?  If one change is made, does the whole plant qualify as an advanced energy resource?
  • Example 2:  "Clean Coal Technology"- the rules don't provide anymore specification then SB221.  The bill just says qualifying technology is something that reduces pollutants like arsenic, chlorine, nitrous oxide, mercury, sulfur dioxide.  By how much?  Again, does a small reduction, like one particle of mercury, make the whole 500 megawatt plant an "advanced energy resource?"

 

CO2 to Jolt the Coal States

Everyday we are bombarded with stories of rising gas and energy prices.  The USA Today recently had a front page article on the increases in electricity rates due to the rise in fuel costs.  The article said utilities are raising rates up to 29% due to soaring fuel cots.   Its not just oil that has skyrocketing prices, natural gas and coal have experienced dramatic increases as well.  Since the beginning of the year coal prices have gone from around $60 per ton to well over $100 per ton (depending on the type of coal purchased). 

Ohio businesses have yet to experience the impacts from what is happening in the energy markets.  Until recent passage of Senate Bill 265, Ohio had frozen its electric rates so recent fuel cost spikes have not been taken into account in rates.  As reported by John Funk in the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the utilities have begun meeting with the State to discuss price increases

Ohio better brace itself for even a larger jolt in prices attributable to CO2 regulation.  Federal legislation such as S. 2191 (the Lieberman-Warner Bill), which would regulate carbon emissions, had a quick death a few weeks ago in the Senate.  However, it is inevitable that federal legislation that establishes a carbon cap and trade program will pass soon after we have a new President (both McCain and Obama support the cap and trade approach). 

With 87% of Ohio's power coming from coal, what impact would such a cap and trade program have on Ohio?  Most understand there will be an impact, but I'm not sure most understand the magnitude.  To illustrate the impact, I attached a chart from U.S. EPA's modeling of the impact of the Lieberman-Warner bill on electricity generation.  The two charts project the amount of electricity generation from various sources (blue = coal, yellow = nuclear, green = other sources).

The chart to the left (click to enlarge image) is the status quo- no greenhouse gas regulation.  It projects coal-fired power would continue to dominate generation in the US. The chart on the right shows what will happen if something close to Warner-Lieberman passes. 

Not only does the amount of coal power shrink relative to nuclear and other sources like renewables, the composition of generation from coal dramatically shifts. The change from blue to red in the chart project the conversion of coal to carbon capture and sequestration (CCS).  U.S. EPA projects that ALL coal plants will institute CCS by the year 2035.  Why?  Because the cost of emitting carbon will be so high that the economics will drive utilities to institute CCS. 

Even U.S. EPA notes in its analysis that this projection is "optimistic."  That certainly is an overstatement given the fact there are no successful CCS projects currently being implemented.  So what does it mean if CCS is unrealistic in that time frame?  It means huge cost increases for coal-fired utilities because the price of allowances under the cap and trade program will rise.  

With fewer reductions there is a corresponding increase in the value of the C02 reduction credits used to offset emissions.  Higher costs for C02 credits translates into larger compliance costs for coal-fired utilities. Those huge costs will be passed on to consumers in the form of electricity price increases. 

Seems to me Ohio business and officials better start seriously considering the implications of federal regulation of CO2.  I am not advocating against passage of greenhouse gas regulation.   Ohio better start planning for a carbon constrained world and how electricity prices tied to coal generation may affect Ohio's competitiveness.